Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Waiting for the tough decisions

Express editorial logo404

Mark Fraser

 Senate President Timothy Hamel-Smith’s call to “overhaul the (criminal justice) system from top to bottom” will have gained added resonance to ears made especially receptive amid outpourings of sentiment following the murder of Dana Seetahal. 

Not one cog in the legal machine can be said to turn smoothly—not policing, court, legal penalties, nor prison conditions. This was the ultimate, if not the proximate, cause of Ms Seetahal’s death. Senator Hamel-Smith referred to a US Department of Justice critique of Trinidad and Tobago’s crime-fighting handicaps, among them, “outdated methodologies” and “restrictive decision-making systems”. 

Meanwhile, the People’s National Movement, speaking from the Opposition oasis wherein all politicians always have solutions to all problems, has trumpeted its ten-point crime plan that covers legislative and constitutional changes, including selection of a Police Commissioner and acceptance of the Caribbean Court of Justice. In similar fashion, the People’s Partnership had ten times as many crime-fighting points before the 2010 general election, none of which has been able to stem the red tide of murders, even as acting CoP Stephen Williams and National Security Minister Gary Griffith boast of falling rates in every other crime category.

It is the Government’s responsibility, however, to take leadership in the urgent business of bringing the parties and stakeholders to the table, to the end of hammering out a workable step-by-step approach to revamping a criminal justice system more in keeping with T&T’s contemporary needs and circumstances. If nothing else, the late Ms Seetahal’s championship of a drug court should inspire innovative thinking and a collaborative approach toward implementation.

But the challenge is not primarily technical. This country has more than enough money to get the needed equipment and personnel to quell crime—indeed, after a decade of purchases and with a police-to-population ratio higher than that of developed nations, the basic infrastructure is already in place. But all the equipment and manpower in the world is useless without effective management systems and, above all else, political commitment to eradicating crime.

The clunky management mechanism of the Police Service is reflected at the very top, with an acting Commissioner who cannot be made permanent or replaced without going through a process that might take months or even years. This despite the fact that Parliament could by next week repeal the legislation that created this backward bureaucracy.

And herein lies the real failure. Time and again, political administrations have baulked at taking hard decisions which would reduce crime, whether in respect to choking off the URP conduit of gang funds or in passing procurement legislation that would stymie white-collar crime.

 That is why crime continues to flourish, and that situation will remain unchanged until enough people shout “Enough!”